Convention Center expansion pushed

February 24, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

When the American Health Care Association sought a site for a convention in October 1995, its first choice was Baltimore.

But when planners contacted Baltimore's Convention Bureau last year to reserve space, they were told the building was already booked.

As a result, the association took its business elsewhere, and Maryland lost a meeting that officials estimate would have injected $2.7 million into the economy.

Preventing losses like that is a major reason why state officials want to expand Baltimore's 13-year-old Convention Center.

If the center is expanded to provide 300,000 square feet of exhibit space instead of the current 115,000 square feet, they say, it would be able to accommodate up to three average-size conventions at one time -- and that's two more than it can handle now.

It would also be able to attract larger conventions.

"With multiple conventions, we could have one going on and one moving in and one moving out," said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the agency overseeing the expansion-planning effort.

"If one major group wants to come when another is already booked, the answer won't be, 'I'm sorry, we already have a convention during those dates.' It will be: 'Sure, come on in.' "

The Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, among others, are gearing up this week for a final push to win state legislative support for the $150 million expansion.

The financing plan calls for $50 million to come from Baltimore and $100 million to come from the state.

As part of their effort to obtain funding, state officials have commissioned schematic designs that show what $150 million would buy. The architect is a joint venture of Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet of Baltimore and Loschky Marquardt Nesholm of Seattle. Gilbane Building Co. is the construction manager.

Planned for construction due west of the Convention Center, the addition would occupy the two-square-block area bounded by Howard, Pratt, Sharp and Conway streets. It would displace Festival Hall, a $4 million exhibit facility built in 1985 to accommodate events crowded out of the convention center, and most of Exhibit Hall E, a 27,000-square-foot exhibit space built under the bed of Sharp Street.

Sharp Street would remain open to southbound traffic and would divide the existing convention center from the expansion at street level. It would be realigned slightly to the east and come closer to the original convention center than it does now.

The expansion would be directly linked to the original building on the exhibit hall level, which is underground, and on the meeting room level, by way of an oversize bridge over Sharp Street.

From certain angles, the expansion would appear to wrap around the Old Otterbein United Methodist Church, the oldest surviving church in Baltimore.

In planning for the expansion, the convention center's operators wanted to introduce features that aren't available in the existing building.

One is a special events room that could accommodate up to 3,000 people for sit-down dinners -- 1,200 more than any other facility in town. Others include a registration area the size of a football field and a 500-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art audio-visual technology.

The plan also calls for $9 million worth of renovations inside the 1979 building so its finishes and mechanical systems would be of the same quality as the addition's.

Another change would be the use of a steel truss system instead of the reinforced concrete structure and catenary cables used in the original building. Designed to span the larger spaces and keep the number of columns to a minimum, the giant steel trusses would set the tone architecturally for the entire building.

The primary goal was to let the "design vocabulary" of the new building grow out of the original so the two would be seamless, said architect Richard Donkervoet. The state didn't want a situation in which one part would feel old and one feel new, and meeting planners want to have events in the newer space only, he said.

"The idea is that when the entire project is finished, it will feel and look like one building," Mr. Donkervoet said.

The expansion's three main levels would line up with the three levels of the original building, and its uses would correspond as well. The expansion would also have a fourth level containing the special events room and a lounge overlooking Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

On the same level as the existing exhibit hall space, the first level of the expansion would provide another 186,750 square feet for exhibits. Of that total, 12,600 square feet would be created by renovating part of Exhibit Hall E. The other 174,150 square feet of new exhibit space would fill the two-square block area bounded by Howard, Pratt, Conway and Sharp streets, and would have 35-foot ceiling heights, the same as in the existing building.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.